Welcome to Dark Dorset
Welcome to the Dark Dorset website - Dorset's premier website devoted to local folklore, customs, mysteries and the unexplained.
Based on the publication Dark Dorset: Tales of Mystery, Wonder and Terror by Robert. J. Newland and Mark. J. North. and Dark Dorset Calendar Customs by Robert. J. Newland. This site is an online compendium of information relating to local folklore and mysteries that can be discovered in the county of Dorset.
Click on the menu on the left of your screen to explore the wonderful world of Dark Dorset.
The site is regularly updated, so I do hope that you come back soon!
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- Shrove Tuesday Football Ceremony
4th March is Shrove Tuesday, Also known as "Pancake Day". Shrove Tuesday always falls on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday which is the first day of Lent in the Christian faith. Dates vary from year to year, but it usually falls in February, sometimes early March.
It is the day of preparation for Lent, when the eating pancakes was made obvious by the need to up the eggs and fat, the eating of which were prohibited during the forty days of Lent.
At Corfe, the village holds the annual custom of Shrove Tuesday Football Ceremony of the Purbeck Marblers. This occurs on this day that new apprentices are introduced to the Ancient Order of Purbeck Marblers and Stonecutters.
- Ash Wednesday
After the fun and frolics of Shrove Tide comes the solemnities of ‘Lent Tide’; the period of time which runs from ‘Ash Wednesday’ to ‘Good Friday’. The word ‘Lent’ derives from an old name for March, ‘Lenten Tide’, meaning the time when the days lengthen. During Lent Christians traditionally observe forty days of fasting to imitate Christ’s miraculous abstinence in the wilderness. In the past the rules of Lent were faithfully observed with only one proper meal allowed per day, yet eggs, dairy produce and wine were strictly forbidden. Sex too, was forbidden during Lent therefore Lent marriages were rare. As one old proverb says: ‘Marry in Lent and you’ll live to repent!’
One now defunct custom was the beating up of a ‘Jack-a-Lent’ or ‘Jack-O-Lent’. A Jack-a-Lent was a straw stuffed human effigy which would be dragged and beaten through the streets at the start of Lent and was then hanged from a tree until ‘Palm Sunday’, when it would be shot to pieces.
The Jack-a-Lent was said to represent Judas but this custom is more likely to have its roots in an age-old ritual of driving out winter. He is mentioned in Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor.
Dorset Folklorist, John Symonds Udal wrote about the customs and traditions of Lent in Dorset in his book 'Dorsetshire Folklore' published in 1922:-
I have already mentioned (p. 21, Pancakes and Football customs) the custom of " Lent-crocking ", but I can find no trace existing in Dorsetshire of the old Lenten custom or pastime of throwing cudgels at "jack-o'-lents ",—puppets usually stuffed with straw.
Barnes, indeed, in his Glossary (1863), p. 65, defines them as "a scarecrow of old clothes, sometimes stuffed ", and refers to Fielding,—" who was sometime in Dorset,' — as using the name in his Joseph Andrews (chapter ii). Barnes's reference here would appear to indicate that he knew of the word being used only as a scarecrow, and not as a pastime; for Fielding in this passage, in which he alludes to "Jack-o'-Lent" being the modern appellation of the god Priapus, can scarcely have used it as referring to any of that deity's attributes other than an agricultural one, — in this instance that of a " bird-keeper ", (See also Barnes's observations in his Fore-say (ante) as to " Jack-a-lent", p. 3.)
That the pastime, however, must at one time have prevailed in Dorsetshire is clear from an extract which the late Mr. Thomas Wainwright has given from the '" Cofferers' Accounts " for the year 1574-5 in his Bridport Borough Records (1898), p. 33 :— " Itm paid to Owyn for the making of Jack-a-lent and his hors hire — 4.s."
Brand, too, gives references to this practice from various Elizabethan and later dramatists.
One of these, from Quarles' Shepheards' Oracles (1646), p. 88, gives the word as used in both senses :—
"How like a Jack a Lent
He stands, for Boys to spend their Shrovetide throws,
Or like a puppit made to frighten cows."
I have no evidence as to how this pastime was carried out in those days; though it is not improbable that it was the direct ancestor of our own modern, and still universally indulged in, amusement of " Aunt Sally ".
On 13th March 1925, circuit judge, sportsman, antiquarian, collector, essayist and a miscellaneous writer - John Symonds Udal, author of 'Dorsetshire Folklore', died at the age of 76 at his London home in St John's Wood. His ashes where brought back to his beloved home of Symondsbury and interred in St. John the Baptist churchyard adjacent to the Manor House where much of the original preparation of his 'Dorsetshire Folklore' had taken place.
Click here to read more about John Symonds Udal
- St. Edward the Martyr's Day
Edward was the eldest son of King Edgar of England and his first wife, Ethelfleda who died shortly after her son's birth. He was baptized by St. Dunstan and became King in 975 on his father's death with the support of Dunstan but against the wishes of his stepmother, Queen Elfrida, who wished the throne for her son Ethelred. Edward ruled only three years when he was murdered on March 18 while hunting near Corfe Castle, reportedly by adherents of Ethelred, though William of Malmesbury, theEnglish historian of the twelfth century, said Elfrida was the actual murderer.
Edward was a martyr only in the broad sense of one who suffers an unjust death, but his cultus was considerable, encouraged by the miracles reported from his tomb at Shaftesbury; His feast day is March 18 and still observed in the diocese of Plymouth.
Click here to read more about Edward the Martyr
- Mothers' Day and the custom of 'Clipping the Church'
Mothering Sunday, also called "Mothers' Day" in the United Kingdom and Ireland falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent (exactly three weeks before Easter Sunday). It is believed to have originated from the 16th century Christian practice of visiting one's mother church annually, which meant that most mothers would be reunited with their children on this day.
The custom of ‘Clipping the Church’ as it is called, is a dance-like ceremony in which the parishioners join hands and move around the outside of the church in an unbroken ring often singing a traditional clipping hymn. The word "clipping" is Anglo-Saxon in origin, and is derived from the word "clyp-pan", meaning "embrace" or "clasp" and thus is an expression of devotion to the Mother Church.
Currently, there are only a few churches left in England that hold this ceremony like St. Peter's Church, Edgmond, and St. Mary's Church in Painswick. The Church of St. Laurence at Upwey also revived this tradition in 1962.
- Sprinq Equinox
The ‘Spring’ or ‘Vernal Equinox’, which was once called ‘Ostara’, occurs on either 20th, 21st or 22nd March when the sun enters ‘Aries’ according to the Earth’s orbit and the insertion of leap years. The Spring Equinox marks the time when the sun crosses the celestial equator northwards or the ‘half way point’ resulting in equal twelve hours of day and twelve hours of night. At the equinox the sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west after which the daylight hours grow increasingly longer until the sun reaches its highest point in the sky at the ‘Summer Solstice’, which occurs in June.
Have you ever wondered how the symbol of the rabbit became associated with the Easter Festival? The origin of the Easter Bunny probably goes back to the festival's connection with the pagan goddess Eostre. Eostre (sometimes spelt Oestre) was a fertility goddess from whom we derive the word "oestrogen" and she is closely associated with fertility symbols such as eggs. The rabbit is known as a highly fertile creature and hence an obvious choice for Easter symbolism.
In fact the use of the rabbit is probably a mistake - the Easter "bunny" is more likely to have been a hare, since it is the hare that is usually considered the sacred creature of Eostre.
Pagan fertility festivals at the time of the Spring equinox were common. It was believed that at this time, when day and night were of equal length, male and female energies were also in balance.
The hare is often associated with moon goddesses; the egg and the hare together represent the god and the goddess respectively. The earliest known reference to our modern Easter Bunny tradition appears to be from 16th century Germany. In the 18th century, German settlers to America brought the tradition with them. The Bunny was known by them as Oschter Haws (a corruption of the German Osterhase ) and brought gifts of chocolate, sweets and Easter Eggs to good children. Often children would make up nests for Oschter Haws, sometimes using their Easter bonnets, and the Bunny would leave his treats there.
It is because of this strong connection with pagan traditions that Hares were strongly associated with witches and witchcraft in Christian times. People claimed that a witch could shape shift her form at night and become a hare. These solitary creatures, rarely seen, sometimes standing on their hind legs like a person, aroused suspicion.When in distress they uttered a strange, almost human-like cry, which gave the animal a supernatural quality. For its behaviour would mimic that of a supposed witch. In this form she stole milk or food, or destroyed crops. Others insisted that hares were only witches' familiars.
In Dorset there are many stories associated with Witch Hares. Click here to read about 'Daggers Gate' witch hare
- Folklore, Customs and Ghost Stories in Sherborne - Elisabeth Bletsoe of Sherborne Museum explores the folklore, customs and hauntings of this ancient Dorset market town.
- Well Dressing and Sacred Water - Dorset Archaeologist Chris Tripp, looks at the folk customs and traditions associated with water and how these ancient rituals still remain with us to this day.
- Folklore of William Barnes - We revisit an early article from the 1920s written by local Folklorist and Historian, John Symonds Udal. He discusses folklore of the county and how it influenced the writings and poetry of Dorset dialectologist Rev. William Barnes.
- Cerne Abbas - A brief history of the village with local Legends and Customs.
- Sea Dragons, Fairy Loaves & Serpents of Stone - Dr. Karl Shuker explores the folklore and proto-scientific beliefs attached to Lyme Regis's most famous fossils.
- Daisy Wheels and a Ritual Landscape in Dorset - Ric Kemp examines the strange, centuries-old religious symbols and carvings which can be found in churches in and around Dorset.
Drawing on historical and contemporary sources, 'Haunted Weymouth' by local ghost tour guide Alex Woodward, is sure to send a shiver down the spine of anyone daring to learn more about the haunted history of the area. Including many previously unpublished stories, this book will appeal to both serious ghost hunters and those who simply want to discover what frights lurk beneath the surface of this once royal seaside resort.
The Recollections of Rifleman Harris Audio CD is abridged from an 1848 first edition of this famous historical memoir of a Rifleman Benjamin Randell Harris, from the 95th Rifles, in the Napoleonic Wars. This CD production by Explore Multimedia is read by Jason Salkey, who played the character of ‘Rifleman Harris’ in the Sharpe TV Series and provides a brilliant complement to his Harris diaries DVD series. Sound FX are provided by The 95th Rifles Re-enactment Society. A musical score by Adam Wakeman adds to this excellent production.
The tale of the Black Dog of Bungay and the infamous attack on the church of St. Marys in 1577, has inspired and fascinated residents and visitors to the town for centuries along with tales of Black Shuck the Ghostly Dog of Norfolk.
To this day, sightings of the Black Dog are common through the region and form an integral part of local folklore and myth. At the same time, the history of the legend itself tells its own tale of the town of Bungay and how the community has responded to crisis through local folklore and myth.
This book, a collaborative effort between local historian Christopher Reeve and historian and anthropologist Dr. David Waldron, traces the rise of this story from its origins in the trauma of the English Reformation to the contemporary era where it has become a central part of Bungay’s communal and civic identity and a colourful and intriguing aspect of local folklore.
Paranormal Purbeck - A Study of the Unexplained by David Leadbetter
A collection of remarkable experiences from the Isle of Purbeck. It visits nearly 70 sites and has contributions from over a hundred local people.
Most of the first-hand accounts have never been published before, suggesting that the ‘paranormal’ is more commonplace than we generally suppose and is perceived intuitively, depending on the right combination of circumstances.
The author challenges fixed opinions and beliefs, offering detailed personal experiences from a small geographical area and arguing that we need a fundamental reappraisal of how we view the world.
Anyone with a thirst for mysteries and a desire to extend the frontiers of human knowledge will be gripped.
If you are looking for something different this year, then ghost tours can provide some great entertainment, especially if they're ghost tours after dark. With Dorset having a lot of ghosts, it stands that there will be quite a number of ghost tours and haunted walks to be enjoyed.
We have gathered a collection of haunted walks, some permanent, some seasonal, which you can investigate.
PLEASE NOTE - Most of these guided ghost tours will require booking - and because of the nature of these ghost tours you should always at least contact the organisers (as they are NOT organised by Dark Dorset) to ensure there have been no changes to the plans as changes can occur at any time for many reasons.